Technology is morally neutral

ADT has been creeping me out with some of their recent commercials, where they show off the ability to check in-home security cameras from devices like an iPad (Here’s one example). I get why people would want something like that–know if someone is in their house, and more importantly who and what they’re doing. It’s not even a particularly new idea–things like ‘nanny cams’ have been around for a while, and they can serve an important purpose. I think it’s the ease of checking them that bothers me, because every time I see one of those commercials I imagine a parent checking up on their teen from away to make sure they’re not getting into any trouble, maybe even having a camera in their bedroom. (I suppose I can blame this on Century City which had an episode featuring a girl whose parents were checking up on her every move via a tracking chip and access to any nearby camera.) There’s a valid use for a feature like this, but there’s also a potential invasion of privacy issue as well.

I bring this up because it’s not uncommon for people to denounce certain technologies based on how they are (sometimes) used. Pre-natal testing is a popular target, because it can lead to women choosing to abort because of something discovered via the test…but it can also give parents a chance to prepare for an added challenge they will have to deal with raising a special needs child. BitTorrent is another I’ve seen denounced, because it’s a popular way to distribute pirated media, but it’s nothing more than a file sharing technology. I used to have some trouble in college because they had done something to slow down that sort of file sharing, which was also how Blizzard distributes their games and patches. I found a way around it, but the bottom line is their attempts to stop illegal downloading interfered with my perfectly legal attempts to download game content. And I’ve posted before about how stories of bad experiences with psychiatric medications erases the stories of those who have good experiences.

This is something we need to keep in mind. We’re often tempted to limit use of a certain technology based on how it is typically used (and sometimes there’s so little ‘valid’ use and/or the social dangers are so high that doing such a thing is warranted) but the core problem isn’t with the technology itself, it’s with people. Technology isn’t good or bad, it just is, and we’re really bad at seeing that.

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